Luis Garduno skipped work Thursday so that he could support unauthorized immigrants like himself and to dispel the rumor that people like him came to the U.S. to commit crimes: He came to the U.S. to work, he said in Spanish.
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Garduno was the only worker at his restaurant who went to a protest at Nomar Plaza on Thursday, so his restaurant didn’t have to close.
But he was joined by about 400 other people, mostly Latinos, who participated in “A Day Without Immigrants,” a national protest that shut down restaurants across the country, including several in Wichita. Wichita public schools also reported an unusually high number of absences, and many protesters vowed not to do any shopping.
“A Day Without Immigrants” actions, planned in cities across the country, were organized in response to President Donald Trump’s pledge to increase the deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally.
Protest at Nomar Plaza
Roberto Ticas, a citizen of El Salvador who has lived in the U.S. for 17 years – 12 in Wichita – showed up to the protest at Nomar Plaza because he doesn’t want to go back to El Salvador. He was taking the day off from his job as a welder.
Several of the speakers called out Trump for employing immigrants, for coming from an immigrant family and for marrying immigrants, but then singling out Latino immigrants.
“I’m a citizen. I was born here, but right now I don’t feel like I’m from here,” Daina Gallegos said in Spanish.
“I have felt racism, my children have felt racism, because people don’t distinguish whether you are Latin or Mexican. I don’t think it’s just. It hurts my soul. They don’t respect whether you have papers or not. Your color is everything, the way that you speak is everything. I am mad at our president.”
Moses Torres, 19, who works at a gas station and goes to community college, said he wouldn’t be doing any shopping Thursday to show the economic impact of taking immigrants out of the community. “Who works in the hotels? Who builds the buildings?” shouted Torres into a microphone in Spanish, and then to the loudest applause, “Who prepares the most delicious food?”
Maria Quezada said the protest Thursday reminded her of when she marched with Cesar Chavez in the 1960s as a little girl when she lived with her parents, who were migrant farm workers. “He passed away but I know he is watching,” Quezada said. “We have to continue to do this because we’re the ones who continue to work in this country.”
School attendance down
The number of unexcused absences more than doubled Thursday compared with previous days, according to Wichita Public Schools spokeswoman Susan Arensman.
Records showed 2,535 students were reported absent without a valid excuse from Wichita elementary schools on Thursday morning, compared with 878 unexcused absences on Wednesday and 641 on Tuesday.
Middle and high school students missed about 12,000 class periods Thursday morning, Arensman said, compared with between 5,000 and 5,500 per day earlier in the week.
Wichita principals were instructed to treat Thursday’s “Day Without Immigrants” boycott “just as any other school day,” according to an e-mail. Participation in the walk-out would not be considered an excused absence for students or employees.
“There is no question that we value the diversity in our district and community, and have deep appreciation for the students, employees and their families who come to us from countries other than the US,” said the e-mail to principals from assistant superintendents Bill Faflick and Alicia Thompson.
“That said, it is important to emphasize that school is in session on Thursday, Feb. 16, just as any other school day.”
In some school districts with large immigrant populations, such as Los Angeles, school officials urged students and teachers not to join the protest.
Sherman Padgett, principal at Wichita North High School, said Thursday he hoped students would not participate in the “Day Without Immigrants” protest by skipping school. “You shouldn’t hurt yourselves trying to make a point to the oppressor,” Padgett said. “You don’t not go to school. You fight hard to have a right to a public education.”
Several Wichita Mexican restaurants participated in the “Day Without Immigrants” walk-out by closing their doors for the day.
“Today we stand with immigrants,” stated a post on the Facebook page of El Patio. “We will stand in solidarity and join them. Without immigrants, America would not be what it is today.”
El Rancho, which has restaurants at 2801 N. Broadway and 1601 W. Pawnee, also closed. Its Facebook page featured a poster with a closed fist that read, in English and Spanish, “My business supports One Day Without Immigrants.”
These restaurants also reported closing: Casa Del Charro at 2227 N. Arkansas, Rene’s, at 677 Eisenhower and 9310 W. Central, Lina’s Mexican Restaurant at 3570 N. Woodlawn; Mexico Viejo, 6960 W. 21st St.; Taco Fajita, 1004 S. Meridian; Anahuac Tortilleria, 2792 S. Seneca; Gorditas Durango, 527 W. 13th St.; Juarez Bakery, 2209 S. Seneca and 1068 N. Waco, and Los Compadres Mexican Grill, 3302 W. Central.